Here Comes the ... Bridal Registry

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Here Comes the ... Bridal Registry

By Romy Schafer - 08/01/2011

For nearly 90 years, women have been turning to bridal registries to help their guests — and themselves — with the gift-giving process. Chicago-based Marshall Field & Co. reportedly introduced this service to its department-store customers in the early 1920s, with other merchants following suit. Some 70 years later, Target added an electronic, self-service gift registry to its U.S. stores. Today, many brides use the discount retailer's Club Wedd to create and manage their registry via computer, smart phone or other electronic device.

Given how busy, digitally connected and geographically scattered family members and friends are nowadays, it's not surprising that wedding registries — especially online registries — continue to grow in popularity. A survey released in March 2011 by lifestage media company The Knot Inc., revealed that 88 percent of nearly 19,000 U.S. survey participants registered at and prior to their wedding. According to the company, the registrants represent about 80 percent of brides nationwide.

Brides who use typically register and select merchandise at numerous retailers, such as Bloomingdale's, Crate & Barrel, Macy's and Williams-Sonoma. Guests then can search for their family member's or friend's name to obtain a list of selected retailers and merchandise.

"It's one source brides can go to for every single gift they're registered for from retailers they've registered with," says Amy Eisinger, associate editor of, on the other hand, is a universal gift registry that enables users to create one centralized, online gift list for any gift-giving occasion, including weddings and housewarmings. The site lets people register for items from any online or brick-and-mortar retailer. Gift-givers search for a wish list by the registrant's name.

"[Our members] are usually busy people who love the convenience an online registry brings them and couples with eclectic tastes who realize that everything they want is not going to be found at just a few stores," says Nancy Lee, president of

But not all brides want to register at big websites, which can be overwhelming for people who aren't tech-savvy, such as older family members and guests. For these individuals, a favorite merchant's online store can offer just the right amount of product selection, convenience and service.

The Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon, Fla., launched an online store last year that enables brides to create a wedding registry and add items from the store's cookware, professional cutlery and kitchen tool offerings.

The Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon, Fla., launched an online store last year that enables brides to create a wedding registry and add items from the store's cookware, professional cutlery and kitchen tool offerings.

"We don't have everything on it, but we have a good amount of [merchandise]," explains Marketing Manager Kelly Bock, who updates the online gift lists, adding and deleting merchandise as needed. Guests can view registries and purchase selected items online or shop in-store using a computer-generated gift list.

Brides in the Normal, Ill., area who want personalized, one-on-one service know they'll find it at The Garlic Press, a 35-year-old gourmet retailer that offers an array of products ranging from cookware, kitchen accessories and specialty foods to handcrafted jewelry, toys and gifts.

"We walk our guests around and write down the things they point to," explains Sarah McManus, one of the store's four co-owners. "We recommend things. We give them guidance, depending on how much they need or want. We let them know that we treat their guests the same way.

"Whenever anyone comes in asking to see the registry, our staff will get it and walk around the store with them, pointing things out," she continues. "There's no computer printout, but even if we didn't handwrite everything, we would still be walking guests around the store."

Another service that makes The Garlic Press unique is its willingness to reserve a percentage of items about which the bride or groom feel strongly.

"If I'm holding it in the backroom, I can't sell it to anyone else," McManus says. "But it helps us, too. We want to be sure to have some special things when their guests come here."

All this hands-on customer service, combined with the buy-local movement, has prompted a recent upsurge in bridal registries for the store, McManus says.

Still, brides who like the convenience of an online registry will be happy to learn that store is in the process of adding one to

Online Vs. In-Store
As might be expected, online and in-store bridal registries have unique pros and cons. For instance, some people avoid online registries because they find them confusing and difficult to use. Therefore, many websites now offer online and offline support for users.

"In addition to providing video and written tutorials on all features of the site, recently launched a concierge service where the company will call users to walk them through site functions, provide item suggestions and more," Lee says.

"Additionally, members who need assistance in choosing registry items can browse more than 1,800 affiliated retailers in the ‘Stores We Like' section, search items by category using our itemized checklists for expecting families and brides, and search by item title in our ‘Search Anything' data base of millions of products," she notes.

Furthermore, determining the quality of a product based on a low-resolution, digital image can be difficult.

"We encourage our brides to go into stores to physically look at the items that they're registering for," Eisinger says. "Sometimes, you don't realize things about a product when you're looking at it online that you would in a store."

Eisinger recounts the experience of a friend who registered for silverware online, only to discovered that it was top-heavy when she received it as a gift.

"If she had gone to the store and picked up the silverware, she would have immediately realized that the silverware was unbalanced," she says.

On the other hand, online wedding registries enable guests to shop anytime and anywhere — a key factor for individuals who don't live near the bridal couple.

"Most people are going to be traveling to a wedding, and being able to have something shipped to the bride and groom makes things so much easier on your guests," Eisinger says.

In-store registries can be problematic for gift-givers if a retailer has only one location or if it's situated near big-box stores with online wedding registries.

However, specialty retailers known for selling high-end and innovative products also can benefit from their individuality. According to Bock, regular customers at The Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium often buy a wedding gift for someone not registered at the store or better-quality items than those for which the bride registered.

"They're loyal to us and know it'll make a nice gift for the wedding that they're going to," she says.

Kitchenware Rules
Online and in-store bridal registries may differ significantly in their design and use, but they do have one thing in common: Products for the kitchen are their best-sellers.

Both Bock and McManus cite better-quality cookware, cutlery and bakeware as top bridal gift picks at their stores.

"All the pricy stuff — that's what people go to independent or specialty stores for," Bock says.

All-Clad, Swiss Diamond, Tyler Florence and Viking are some of the brands customers seek out at The Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium; Le Creuset, Nordicware and All-Clad are among the high-end brands offered by The Garlic Press.

Pepper and salt mills, cutlery and Kyocera white ceramic knives also are popular among brides registering at The Garlic Press, as is a "smart and hip-looking" line of kitchen tools from Joseph & Joseph," McManus says, adding, "We have a full display from them. They've done really, really well for us."

One category that soon-to-be-married couples usually don't register for at specialty stores are small kitchen appliances — coffeemakers, toasters, blenders — but they do add them to their online gift lists.

"About 90 percent of couples register for kitchen appliances," making this one of's leading categories, Eisinger says. Other top categories for which couples register are bakeware (91 percent), kitchen accessories (87 percent), cookware (86 percent), cutlery (77 percent), flatware (71 percent) and casual/everyday china (69 percent).

KitchenAid mixers and espresso/coffeemakers rank among's best-selling products, as do traditional items such as Lenox china, Lee says. The category that her company has seen enormous growth in, however, is cash.

"Cash gift funds are perfect for people who are trying to save up for a big-ticket item, like their honeymoon, a down-payment on a new home or anything that would be too expensive to be purchased by one person," she says. "Our members love this functionality, and their guests love the convenience of giving cash and knowing exactly what their contribution is going toward."

Not surprisingly, the gift-buyer's relationship to the bridal couple typically influences how much she spends on a gift.

"On average, visitors to spend about $90 on wedding gifts, often making several return visits for further purchases," Lee says. "Family members often spend well above the norm, while more casual friends tend to spend under it."

Eisinger finds the same to be true for guests making purchases through

"On average, friends spend about $79 on a wedding gift, while family members spend about $146," she says.

Bock and McManus, meanwhile, cite a range of $30 to $50 for gifts purchased by friends, with family members spending more.

The Garlic Press in Normal, Ill., offers an array of products for registrants, ranging from cookware, kitchen accessories and specialty foods to handcrafted jewelry, toys and gifts.

Getting Started
Most specialty retailers with an online presence probably have been asked countless times if they offer an online bridal registry, and some finally are ready to start one. Fortunately, doing so isn't as difficult as it used to be. There are numerous companies available that specialize in e-commerce solutions.

There are, however, several things retailers should consider when creating a registry, Eisinger says. For instance, the registry should allow brides to easily modify or update their registry, allow guests to make purchases online, and enable gift-givers and recipients to easily return and exchange items.

"Affordability of items is a huge consideration, too," Eisinger stresses. "When brides sign up for their registry, they want to make sure that it has $25 items as well as $200 items."

Retailers starting an online registry also may want to consider offering loyalty or completion programs. Many large retailers award $50 gift certificates, redeemable at their stores, to brides with completed registries. Others give registrants 25-percent-off coupons good for use on items remaining on the registry after the big day.

Another approach retailers may want to consider is partnering with a universal gift registry system.

‘ offers very reasonably priced software for merchants that enables them to take part in a universal gift registry system," Lee says. "The software places an ‘Add to Registry' button on all of their gifts and helps their customers easily open a registry on their own [] website."

Whatever approach retailers take to creating an online wedding registry, doing so makes their goods just a click away — anytime and anywhere — from potential customers.

Meanwhile, specialty stores offering traditional in-store registries have product selection and customer service to rely on in engaging engaged couples and their future wedding guests.

Either way, building a gift registry is a means to a successful end at retail.

Fact Fast
91 The percentage of couples that register for bakeware

Courting Nontraditional Couples
Hundreds of same-sex couples traveled to New York in July to get married when the Empire State became the sixth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. Many celebrated their marriages the way most couples do — with family, friends and all the traditional wedding rituals — undoubtedly leaving more retailers looking for ways to attract this consumer group.

One New York-based company that has actively shown its support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is Macy's. For several years now, the iconic department store chain has marked Pride Month with a celebration campaign called Pride + Joy. The 2011 campaign featured in-store events, commemorative advertising and window displays, Pride merchandise in select stores, gift registry booths for couples in key cities, celebrity appearances, and sponsorship of and employee participation in Pride parades across the country.

Gay couples have been able to find wedding vendors, officiants, honeymoon destinations, bridal fashions and more at since 2008. Part of The Knot Inc.'s network, the website saw "a 200 percent spike in traffic" on July 22 — the day the New York Senate passed the bill allowing same-sex marriages in the state, says Amy Eisinger, associate editor of sister site

To commemorate the historic event, The Knot, in partnership with Pop Up Chapel, wed 24 same-sex couples in New York City's Central Park on July 30. The Knot provided the officiant, photographer, flowers, witnesses, stylists, cupcakes and location for free.

According to Nancy Lee, president of, the universal gift registry already is "the perfect destination for nontraditional couples to register because our system has so much flexibility. You can register for absolutely anything under the sun, and that includes services, as well. Many of our members create registries that reflect what they, as a couple, enjoy doing together, so there are registries filled with camping, cycling, boating and other hobby-related gear."

The Garlic Press in Normal, Ill., offers an array of products for registrants, ranging from cookware, kitchen accessories and specialty foods to handcrafted jewelry, toys and gifts.